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Sunday, 16 December 2012





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LTTE cohorts in Australia encourage asylum seekers - Controller General of I&E

The Immigration and Emigration Controller General Chulananda Perera says a significant proportion of unlawful migrants from Sri Lanka to Australia constitute the relatives of successful asylum seekers already living there.

Chulananda Perera

Statistically speaking, he says, this figure outnumbers the economic migrants who show up on Australian shores demanding jobs.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer on the issue of Sri Lankan boat people to Australia which has become one of the biggest controversies in Australia in recent history, the Controller General said that the European countries, the initial target of bogus asylum seekers and economic migrants, tackled the issue strategically once the threat was identified.

"Europe took a decision to give priority to their citizens when it came to employment. The decision by the EU to ban the LTTE too had a monumental effect. Their deteriorating economic stability during the recession may also have contributed. Hence, the human smugglers, who earlier took full advantage of the terrorist situation to pack human cargo to Europe shifted their focus elsewhere," he said.

Sri Lanka, following discussions with Australian State officials, is on the verge of bringing in sweeping changes to the existing Immigration and Emigration Act to completely overhaul the current laws and deter human smugglers. The amended laws are expected to come into effect by April next year.

The excerpts of the interview:

Human smuggling is one of the components of irregular migration, this can be via air or sea. Earlier the trend was to go to Europe - Italy, Germany and France by air, on fraudulent passports and by other means. We introduced so many measures to mitigate and combat this type of irregular movement. One of the measures included online connectivity with the foreign border control officers.

Now a forged passport from Sri Lanka cannot go through any approved airport. We have also established a documentation laboratory, to verify the passports and visas issued anywhere in the world for their authenticity. This was financed by the Australian Government.

We are closely working with Regional Airline Liaison Officers Network (RYLON). Sri Lanka is one of the co-chairs of RYLON. We share information, do capacity building, and as a result of joint cooperation certain agreements were reached on how to manage irregular migration by air.

Human smuggling is often irregular movement by sea. According to the Sri Lankan Immigration and Emigration Act, a person leaving the country by any other means, than an approved air or sea port is violating the country's immigration laws. It constitutes a criminal offence. It could be that when we shut the gate on unlawful migration via air, smugglers resorted to cheap sea-migration.

Illegal migrants from Sri Lanka first flowed to Europe. But no sooner the EU identified the developing threat, the European block took up some collective decisions, one was to give priority to their citizens when it came to employment.

Another important move was the decision to ban the LTTE. The deteriorating economic stability during the recession too had an effect. Hence, the human smugglers, who earlier took full advantage of the terrorist situation to pack human cargo to Europe shifted their focus elsewhere.

Earlier the trend was for Tamil speaking people from the Northern and the Eastern provinces to flee to Australia in rickety boats. They took advantage of the unstable situation in the North of the country. But later people from other areas too joined in the perilous journey, lured in by the human smugglers.

There are many factors why people get on boats to Australia. The country is yet to proscribe the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. And it has lax immigration laws. They are a signatory to the Geneva Convention, which makes it obligatory to welcome asylum seekers. They don't send them back. Asylum seekers receive good treatment on humanitarian grounds.

These are highly desirable conditions for mass scale human smugglers and prospective bogus claimants. The other reason is the economic stability in Australia.

The fraudsters dropped Canada as an asylum option following the introduction of new Immigration Protection Laws which help filter bogus cases from genuine ones. It was one of the key reasons for the human smugglers to shift their focus from Canada to Australia.

From the immigration point of view, we have been discussing with the Australian counterparts since 2009, to amend the Sri Lankan Immigration and Emigration Act. The proposed amendments will ensure revising 90 per cent of the existing Act.

The new laws will spell out tougher penalties and incorporate comprehensive people smuggling provisions, extradition provisions, extra territorial jurisdiction, fraudulent travel identity document offences, aggravated forms of people smuggling offences, all of which will give more teeth to existing legislature and deter people-smuggling.

Following the discussions, we have prepared amendments to revise the law and the final draft is now with the Legal Draftsman.

Sri Lanka has completed setting up a National Coordination Committee for Readmission for people who have left the country via illegal means, or Lankan visitors who have overstayed in foreign countries, or people who have violated immigration laws of another country, when they get repatriated. This is the domestic mechanism to verify the bona fides of their identities and receive them. We have four readmission agreements with four EU countries which came into effect in 2005.

Under the NCCR three subcommittees; Police Committee, Operations Committee and Reintegration Committee have been set up. The police, CID, Public Administration and Foreign Employment Bureau are engaged in these committees. Our main concern is identification. We have recorded three incidents where Tamil speaking people from other countries tried to enter Sri Lanka pretending to be Sri Lankans.

They had been repatriated from UK. This is a continental problem and we have to be cautious of such acts.The number of flights coming from Australia per week can sometimes be overwhelming. We have a resource constraint to clear such a large number of repatriates at once.

The readmission process establishes identification. By the time the repatriated illegal immigrants arrive at the airport, their identities would have been verified through relatives or State agencies and a temporary travel document is issued. This procedure simplifies our work here.The tentative plan is to effect amendments to the existing law by April 1.There is also a disturbing trend that the Australian Government must recognise. Most of the Tamil speaking people who risk their lives in sea to travel 3,000 kilometres, in perilous conditions want to join their relatives who had been granted asylum earlier. Many of them have LTTE links.

Other than economic migrants, there is a significant proportion of such people leaving our shores. They want to reunite with their kith and kin already living there. It has nothing to do with the situation in Sri Lanka.

The LTTE linked Tamil diaspora have money to spend for lawyers and other support activities to argue and secure asylum status for these people whereas others get repatriated overnight. The human smugglers take full advantage of this situation.



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